Where's That Word From?

Take our quiz on everyday etymology

Trees with blurred roots
Discovering Word Roots

Some pre-quiz quick questions.

  • Did you find this quiz through googling?

  • Or from a hashtag on social media?

  • Were you using your smartphone?

  • If you like it, will you consider giving it a smiley emoji?

No matter your answers, you will know what each of those questions asked. But skip back in the TARDIS 30 years or so and you wouldn’t have a clue.


This has nothing to do with your IQ or vocabulary. The words simply didn’t exist. At least, not to mean what they do today.


Smartphone and emoji had their first recorded usage in 1996 and 97 respectively. Google spawned its own words (2000 for googling) as it went from challenger brand to mainstream at warp speed. The penetration of Facebook, Twitter and TikTok makes it easy to forget just how new terms like social media (2004) and hashtag (2007) really are.


The digital era has dramatically cut the time it takes for new words to become mainstream. Before this, adoption of new words – or neologisms – was a long, drawn-out process.


We borrowed words from other languages. We combined and contracted them. We took the parts of their original meaning we wanted and ignored the rest. We mispronounced, reinflected, and dropped letters we didn’t much care for.


It’s not always possible to know the exact origins of the English language we toss around today, but it can be interesting to look at the probable roots.


Here's a baker's dozen of words with some surprising origins. See how many you know.


You will find the answers here.

 

Where's That Word From?

1. CARNIVAL

A) The removal of meat from the flesh

B) The extraction of vegetables from the earth

C) The destruction of bones from the skull

Cloud

2. CLOUD

A) A ball of cotton wool

B) A mass of rock

C) A plume of feathers

A pin board of clues

3. CLUE

A) A revolver

B) A rope

C) A candlestick

4. COCONUT

A) The hairy head of a gorilla

B) The crying eyes of a widow

C) The grinning face of a mad man

5. DEBACLE

A) To break up ice for travelling

B) To break up bread for feasting

C) To break up peat for burning

6. GUACAMOLE

A) Milk of the breast

B) Mucus of the nose

C) Sauce of the testicle

7. MORTGAGE

A) A tax on death

B) A promise bound by death

C) A fine on living past 80

8. MUSCLE

A) A large horse

B) A small rodent

C) A wild elephant

9. NICE

A) Mentally ignorant, stupid

B) Physically fit, healthy

C) Emotionally vapid, cold

10. PRESTIGIOUS

A) A soothsayer's predictions

B) An apothecary's potions

C) A conjuror's tricks

11. SARCASM

A) To tear at flesh

B) To claw at skin

C) To pull at hair

12. SINISTER

A) The middle-born child

B) The left-handed child

C) The ginger-haired child

13. TRAGEDY

A) The music of a cow

B) The dance of a sheep

C) The song of a goat


 

How did you do?

Find the answers here.